- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

D.C. public school teachers and principals today will get lessons in the dos and donts of discipline during a special training session at Backus Middle School in Northeast.
In announcing the program for educators yesterday, Superintendent Paul Vance said when he took over last year he was "amazed at the number of alleged reported instances of corporal punishment."
Even though hitting a student is banned, more than 200 incidents of corporal punishment were reported during the 1999-2000 school year.
During todays session, teachers and administrators will be informed about the current rules and the process used when charges of corporal punishment are made. They will learn about reporting requirements, how an investigation is carried out, and the role of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Many times charges against teachers have prove unfounded, said Barbara Bullock, president of the Washington Teachers Union.
There is room for confusion, administrators agreed, because the D.C. public school systems definition of corporal punishment is so liberal.
In a demonstration, Mrs. Bullock touched Mr. Vance on the shoulder, as if to "redirect him," saying, "That can be considered corporal punishment."
However, physical force is allowed and may be necessary if teachers need to defend themselves while trying to break up a fight, according to Veleter Mazyck, an attorney for the schools.
Mr. Vance insisted the training is more preventative than reactionary, even in the wake of some high-profile cases.
Last month, parents gathered at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Northwest to protest what they called corporal punishment from teachers and Principal Emma Bonner.
One mother accused the principal of hitting her son on the head with a walkie-talkie and calling him "ignorant" and "illiterate."
One of the more extreme cases concluded in 1998, when Allison York was convicted of assaulting two of her first-grade students at McGogney Elementary in Southeast and sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Prosecutors said Mrs. York held one of her 6-year-old students by the arms and ordered the other children to "get him."
The case sparked outrage at Mrs. Yorks actions, but also brought to light some of the disciplinary nightmares taking place in D.C. classrooms.
In her testimony, Mrs. York said wildness, disrespect and violence were the rule rather than the exception in her classroom.
"A lot of my time went to breaking up fights," she testified. "I tried to teach when I could."
Yesterday, Mr. Vance said, "Its very important for students and teachers to know their rights relative to corporal punishment … . Were trying to get in front of this."
Twenty-seven states, Puerto Rico and the District have outlawed corporal punishment in their public schools. The rest of the states have various rules for when and how students can be spanked, swatted and paddled.
In Shelby County, Ala., public schools, for instance, spanking is allowed, but only by a principal or assistant and not in front of other students. Parents must give their approval ahead of time, and three spanks are allowed per instance of discipline.
D.C. schools will hold another training session in the fall.
Miss Mazyck said there may be a "couple of outstanding cases from some years back that might be related to corporal punishment," but no one has filed a lawsuit against D.C. schools within the past year.


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